Raising bilingual children
Today we live in an increasingly globalised, multicultural society. Which is why it is so important today for children to grown up in contexts where they can experience all this. Learning a foreign language is the first step in giving children a sincere appreciation for diversity and they should therefore start learning the new language as young as possible.
There are more and more bilingual children, born in families where there is at least one parent who speaks another language and who grow up from a young age with 2 languages and 2 cultures. For a child who is fortunate enough to be born in a bilingual family, it is so much easier to learn the new language. But being able to speak two languages or more can have significant benefits and creates no learning problems whatsoever.
Contrary to what people often say, children who live in a bilingual environment develop a greater sensitivity and understanding of the structure and functioning of language.
"But does a child who speaks another language, reach the same language skills of a monolingual child?" Bilingual children learn the same language skills as monolingual children in both languages without any effort. Learning another language during early childhood is indeed a natural and effortless process. Children are like sponges. If encouraged from when they are young, they can learn anything, including languages, effortlessly. These skills tend to decrease at about the age of 6 years, up to the age of 12. That is why it is so important for children to learn a second language as young as possible.
And even if your family is a monolingual family, but you want to try to teach your child a foreign language, you can! Here are tips on how to raise a bilingual child:
- Children don’t learn a second language by magic: it may seem obvious, but you can’t expect your children to learn another language all on their own! To raise a bilingual child successfully you need to create a special set of circumstances and set specific goals.
- Stick to your strategy and goals. Be consistent: once you have decided your strategy you and your family should stick to the rules, speaking the minority language as much as possible. To help this process your child needs to be exposed to the language at least 30% of his waking time. Let it become a part of your daily routine: the minority language should be a natural process that the child slowly learns, and should never be seen as a lesson.
- Help yourself with aids such as books, movies, cartoons or interactive games. Using these aids will make learning so much more fun.
- Be patient: it won’t always be easy and your children may initially refuse to learn the new language. Don’t worry, it's quite normal! So foster your children’s desire to be bilingual, making them feel special compared to their friends.
Becoming bilingual takes time and energy, but it will give you a great deal of satisfactions and make your child grow up with a more open and flexible attitude to life. There is no one perfect method for everyone; every family has its own habits, but remember that if you decide to raise bilingual children, you will need a great deal of patience and determination!
If you still have doubts about raising a bilingual child, remember that it is one of the most precious gifts you can give your child: the opportunity of growing up knowing how to communicate with the world!